Stage 6 of this year’s Vuelta a Espana was all about one man, Tony Martin. Tone took off at kilometre zero alone and with the field looking for a bunch sprint everybody was happy to let him go. I guess everybody figured it wouldn’t be that hard pulling one rider back. Yeah right!
Tony Martin is the equivalent of half a peloton when he opens the throttle and it wasn’t until 25m before the line that his time in the sun came to an end. He certainly has an incredible amount of horsepower to deploy and he almost calculated his effort right down to the watt!
I must admit I was adamant he would not be caught, no matter how many riders tried to chase him down, such is the respect I have for him as a rider. It was certainly a very calculated performance by him and it no doubt laid some valuable training foundations ahead of his defence of his world ITT title at the end of September.
Today provided a great opportunity for us Cannondale riders to work on our system as a team. Ivan [Basso] is a great team captain with a wealth of experience and as Cancellara told me yesterday, all decisions made out on the road in the race by him are for a reason.
To be a great captain it’s not only important to be a great bike rider but more importantly to have a great rapport with your teammates. At the end of the day his success hinges on 100% commitment from his teammates and that’s difficult to achieve if your are not respectful to your teammates.
Ivan is very respectful and as a result every rider is extremely happy to try and do whatever is asked of him.
Before the start of each stage Ivan has a little chat with us all about what he would like us to do for the day. The roles or objectives might be very small and even seem insignificant at times but they do give you an added focus for the task at hand, especially on potentially boring days like today.
As Ivan often reminds us, things can go wrong very quickly so its important that when they do we are alert, ready and in the best possible position to get ourselves out of any potential trouble.
I have already discussed my role in depth — it’s basically to be his bodyguard on these potentially stressful bunch sprint days. [Paolo] Longo’s job is to keep the best position in the peleton which is always in the first 30 positions somewhere. Longo has huge experience and Ivan knows that where Longo goes he can simply follow.
While Longo’s and my role is babysitting Ivan, should we be in a position to assist in the preparations of the sprint we certainly do so if possible. We are not expected to but if Ivan is safe and sound then we love nothing more than ripping out a turn on the front of the bunch as well.
[Lucas Sebastian] Haedo has been on bottle duty and with five years experience at WorldTour level seems to know the exact right moment to bring up a fresh bidon. With this knowledge Ivan is never worried about if he has a drink or not — he knows one is never far away.
Sammy [Cayetano Sarmiento], our Colombian mountain goat needs to save his energy ahead of the mountains so he tucks in safely behind me. He can act as a back up should I not be there to get Ivan out of trouble. He will be a very busy boy once we hit the mountains!
The other guys in this first week have been delegated to look after our sprinters [Daniele] Ratto and [Guillaume] Boivin. [Tiziano] Dall’Antonia is our motor bike for the final lead-out and he will always collect Ivan on his way through the bunch to ensure he is in a safe position heading into the final 3km. From there Dalla will open up the throttle to prepare the sprint for the boys and then it’s up to Ratto, Boivin, and Haedo to do what they can.
The great thing about the way Ivan guides us is we all have small roles to play all the time and we are constantly performing them all day. As a result Ivan is constantly giving us a nod of approval or pat on the back which continually keeps morale really high amongst the team.
In fact you basically want a team of riders that will happily try and ride through a brick wall for you, and without sounding corny that’s exactly what all eight of Ivan’s team mates would happily do for him.
This sport is definitely not for the faint hearted, and the harsh reality is that if you don’t give it all you have then you can bet your bottom dollar another team will. That can be the difference between being a good team and a great team. We have three weeks to show we can be a great team.
From within the bunch everything happens so fast so for us to have a rider like Ivan at the helm it give us the piece of mind to always be calm under fire. We simply know no matter how great the difficulty we find ourselves in, by each doing our small tasks to assist each other we will get ourselves out of it.
We know Ivan would never ask us to do anything we are not capable of and therefore none of our roles seem daunting to us. On the contrary, we are all often wanting more and more to do but Ivan insists to stay calm.
The race is still young and his real work will begin in the final two weeks. At that time we are certain to be called upon to physically push ourselves a fair bit more so we all trust that Ivan knows exactly how to guide us into the next phase of the race.
Certainly as Cancellara told me yesterday, riding for Ivan is a great school, and the Cannondale boys are certainly creating a very happy classroom.
With that all being said here’s how it rolled out for us today. We were happy for a sprint with the ever-consistent Daniele Ratto knocking on the door of a big win. Our plan was pretty simple: save as much energy as possible in the bunch before putting Daniele and our Canadian cannonball Boivin into position for the sprint. Of course we needed to ensure Ivan was safe and sound all day.
As mentioned, Tony Martin did a magic job of playing with the field all day which kept the pace in the peloton very pleasant and consistent. With 25km to go, as always happens, the stress in the group rose and fighting for position resumed. Our Cannondale boys stayed diligent and up the front and never far from the action to ensure we were in the right place at the right time.
I took the boys to the front with 12km to go where a series of roundabouts began. From this point we figured the fight for the front would become more difficult with all the corners so it was important to be at the front.
From there I drifted back behind Ivan until about 5km to go when I saw a chance to jump up to the front safely. When I arrived up there I realised Tony Martin still had a little gap and did not look like coming back to the bunch. So I realised I needed to ride as nobody was making headway.
It was a good option anyway as I felt I could keep the pace high enough to start to peg Tony back and also to keep any attacks coming from the field. With around 2.5km to go the Argos team wanted to take up the pace and as I could just about touch Tony I figured a bunch sprint was inevitable.
As I drifted back into the bunch I spotted our Canadian cannonball well positioned and alone so I told him to do the sprint. The other guys were a long way back and everybody looked tired in the peloton so I figured it would be a sprint where positioning would be rewarded.
In the end Boivin was 14th which, for his first grand tour and first ever opportunity to stretch his legs in the finale is a great result. He will definitely improve from there.
Ivan was safe and sound in the first positions so all was good for the Cannondale team. I enjoyed my day, followed Ivan around and then got to be a little part of the action in the final kilometres. It’s always nice to be up front and see what’s going on than guessing or wondering from up the back of the bunch.
That was our day, a day that could have been a little bit of a drag but, as I have explained above, the captain of the ship ensures there is always something to do to keep us on our toes. It’s the small things that one way or another make each day an enjoyable one with the Cannondale pro cycling team.